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Monday, July 9, 2007

Citizens vs. Civilians

My last post spoke a lot about my belief that a good education, while not necessarily an inalienable right, is certainly in the best interests of democracy. That train of thought led me to the civic structure of Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein, in which there is a distinction between a citizen and a civilian. Science fiction isn't just about warp speed and time travel. The best authors of this genre have posed some fairly intriguing moral questions, and Heinlein is one of the best. In the novel, or the Casper van Dien flick, a citizen must give a minimum of two years military service before gaining the rights to vote or hold public office. Civilians choose not to accept responsibility for the body politic and forfeit those responsibilities and privileges.

The novel is set against the backdrop of a perpetual defensive war. In America, the Vietnam War effectively ended any tradition of forced military service and as long as we don't step on too many toes, we probably won't be engaged in a defensive war anytime soon. The situation is different in the Middle East, where Israeli boys and girls must serve in the military for three years and Muslim youth volunteer in droves to be suicide bombers. We may complain about the erosion of our freedoms, but those of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" are seldom really at risk. They are, in fact, inalienable. I do not believe that citizenship should be.

I think citizenship should be a privilege and that it should be earned. Just as naturalized Americans are forced to pass a test that shows they are knowledgeable about our history and civic structures, I think everyone ought to similarly prove their worth. Currently, the rights to vote, serve on a jury, or hold public office are available to anyone who has successfully not died for a particular number of years. This has always seemed somewhat arbitrary and a little dangerous to me. Many of us know both 16 year-olds with whom we would trust the most complex decision and 34 year-olds who can not be trusted to properly wipe their own ass. I believe we need a higher standard, one that will ensure that those choosing to participate in the system are qualified to do so. There must also be a way to voluntarily opt out, as Heinlein's civilians have done.

Although this scenario will never come to pass, the very idea shapes my feelings on public education. As I said in the previous post, I believe it should be voluntary and designed toward producing informed citizens.

3 comments:

Andy said...

What's a "won ass?" Is that something out of sci-fi too? ;)

I'm right there with you on the earning citizenship thing, although I'm not sure how to best implement it. And the poll tax is like *sooo* 19th century...

Perhaps a simple civics test that each resident has to pass every 5 to 10 years (e.g. when you renewed your license) would work. Of course, people would be screaming about disenfranchisement in that scenario as well.

Tony said...

Civics, verbal and mathematical reasoning, current events, etc. I don't have any idea how best to administer it and I don't want to disenfranchise anyone who takes their responsibility as a citizen in a democracy (I know we live in a constitutional republic) seriously. I'm just tired of people disrespecting the freedoms/powers that were bestowed upon them when they popped out of a vagina on American soil.

mke said...

I was surfing the web after I read this post and ound a book that talks a lot bout this. Its called Citizens and civilians. I found it on Lulu.com and I just bought it and waiting for it to arrive. I think you should check it out too.